博客 Blog

When elephants fight

At COP15, carbon is power: the more you have, the more you matter, which is why all eyes are on China and the United States as the talking gets down to the wire.  The world's two biggest emitters have been trading harsh words for ten days and, as some 114 heads of state or government pile into Copenhagen, the US China tone is getting no better.  

Senator John Kerry’s speech here this morning covered all the sore points: yes, the US had failed so far, he admitted, but it was back in the game and things would be different.  He pointed to President Obama’s green agenda and seemed confident that Congress would come good, if only under the threat that the EPA would regulate if the politicians didn’t legislate. 

But, he said, all that  was contingent on what happened in Copenhagen and it was more than an inconvenient truth that by 2020 China’s emissions would be 40 per cent larger than those of the US. All major emitters, he said, had to take on binding targets and every country that was part of the problem now or in the future had to be transparent and accountable. 

Shared responsibility, Senator Kerry argued, entails an obligation to each country to share information about its good faith commitments. Trust and transparency were key and verification was neither new nor threatening, being more than exists in nuclear or in trade agreements. Without an agreement that addresses this core of transparency, Senator Kerry stressed, it will be difficult to proceed. And for good measure, in less than diplomatic language, he said nobody who failed to sign up could expect to “dump high carbon goods” in the US markets. In other words, China,  comply or face tariffs on your goods.

This is language that China is likely to resent. The Chinese side has flatly turned down international verification and shows no sign of shifting. Some Chinese commentators believe that the notorious unreliability of Chinese statistics lie behind the refusal; others say they believe a verification regime will open the door for its arch rival the US to interfere with Chinese energy policy and other  fundamentals of the Chinese economy.    China has further said that it will not accept international verification for anything that is not being paid for with international finance, and that it does not want short term finance in any event.

The fact is there is little trust and less good faith in this issue and to the Chinese side, ever suspicious that the US is determined to prevent China’s rise, it looks like a Trojan horse.  China and the US have much to gain from cooperation, but if they do not get over this impasse, they put the global deal in jeopardy.    

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

卡托:并没有太大意义

从媒体报道看,你可能觉得哥本哈根会议有划时代意义。其实并非如此。哥本哈根一点意义都没有起到。如果它不能达成一个协议,那么它就毫无意义。但是即使是达成了一个协议,那么它的意义也是微乎其微的……

Cato: certainly not ephochal

You might think from the media coverage that the Copenhagen summit on climate change is epochal. Wrong. Copenhagen hardly matters. If it doesn't produce an agreement, it clearly won't matter. But even if it yields an agreement, that will matter very little.

Why? Because reducing carbon emissions by 80% from the 1990 levels — the target for 2050 for rich countries — depends on technological breakthroughs, not political pledges at Copenhagen. Without technological breakthroughs, reducing carbon emissions by 80% will erode living standards in the countries concerned. No government will deliberately engineer economic distress for the sake of climate change, no matter what it signs at Copenhagen. Through history, treaties have been junked if they become politically inconvenient
In 1947, India signed treaties guaranteeing 500-odd princes privy purses and tax exemption in perpetuity, in return for their accession to India. Yet, when Indira Gandhi felt it politically convenient, she abolished the privy purses and tax privileges. International law allows sovereign governments to scrap any prior treaty.

In the Kyoto treaty on climate change, 37 rich countries pledged to reduce their carbon emissions to 5% below their 1990 level. But most actually increased their emissions. These very treaty-breakers now propose another treaty!

The US signed an anti-ballistic missile treaty with the USSR during the Cold War. But subsequently the US scrapped the treaty, with impunity. The Maastricht Treaty, setting up the European Union, mandated a fiscal deficit ceiling of 3% of GDP for member states. But several members, including Germany and France, have been running deficits far higher than this, with impunity. When political and economic conditions change, treaties hardly matter.
Now, research may yield technological breakthroughs — or steady, major improvements — that curb carbon emissions at modest cost, or even with a saving of costs. Aerosol cans once used CFCs. When these were phased out by the Montreal protocol, companies found it was actually cheaper to use natural gas in place of CFCs.

While governments can try to promote technological change, they cannot guarantee it. After the 1973 oil crisis, the OECD countries spent billions to develop alternate fuels (synthetic crude, shale oil). They also financed projects for solar, wind, wave and ocean thermal energy. None of these technologies proved cost-effective.

Meanwhile, thousands of innovations by individual companies reduced the energy-intensity of every conceivable appliance and practice. This halved the energy-intensity of GDP in the US and reduced its oil imports, breaking the power of OPEC in 1986. This was a typical technological surprise, not the result of governmental planning.
Something similar may happen in the case of carbon emissions. Government subsidies, carbon taxes, cap-and-trade systems, and research projects will aim to create conditions that encourage more research. These will surely yield new technologies and improvements. But these may or may not reduce emissions by 80%. With luck, a breakthrough may come in five years. Without luck, no breakthrough at all may occur. We simply do not know. That is why target dates set by governments are meaningless.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

由于新技术价格高昂会对经济造成不利影响,因此如果减排未能达到80%,政府将放弃减排目标.政府不希望大经济萧条时期来临,只有寄希望于抑制排放量.

这样的作法是否会导致气候灾难的降临?这是很难预测的.由于现今对气象科学的深入理解非常有限,因此政府间气候变化专业委员会所提出的议题看似高深,但无据可依.即使这个委员会有世界上数一数二的科学家但他们也无法预测到5天后的气象走向.

印度下一次干旱能预测到吗?不能.下一次厄尔尼诺能预测到吗?不能.加勒比地区明年刮多少次飓风能预测到吗?不能.那么, 100年后的气候能准确地预测到吗?当然不能. 当人们对一个问题知之甚少时,通常会由于担忧过度而设想成最糟的状况. 这种设想并不会使最糟的状况变得肯定或者可行.

尽管气候捉摸不定,但为了应对也许永远不会降临的灾难,减少排放量是切实可行的.签订协议的目的通常是为了保证在面临政治与经济风险时的双方利益. 但假如费用过高到足以威胁到经济发展,政府一定会撕毁协议. 没有政府会为了避免一个在未来也许不会发生的灾难而亲手制造今天的经济大衰退.

哥本哈根的关于印度策略的经验教训是显而易见的. 印度应该态度强硬并且不需要担心被人指责为弃约者. 当交易的价值完全处在不明朗的阶段, 那么放弃交易就变得无关紧要了.印度应该低调并随时准备跟随着其他国家脱离苦海. 永远不要想当然地以为其他国家会履行对气候保护的约定.

cato: certainly not ephocal 2

If new technologies cannot reduce emissions by 80% save at a huge cost that causes economic distress, governments will abandon emission targets. They will not deliberately create deep recessions just to curb emissions.

Will this lead to climate disaster? Maybe and maybe not. Scientific knowledge of the weather is very limited, and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections are just intelligent guesstimates. IPCC scientists may be the best in the world, yet they cannot predict the weather more than five days ahead.
Can they predict the next drought in India? No. The next El Niño? No. The number of hurricanes in the Caribbean next year? No. So, can they accurately predict the weather 100 years hence? Surely not. When we know very little about a problem, we tend to worry endlessly about worst-case scenarios. That does not make the worst case certain, or even probable.

Despite climate uncertainties, it makes sense to mitigate emissions as insurance against a disaster that may never happen. Treaties are often signed to provide mutual insurance against political and economic risks. But if the insurance premium becomes costly enough to threaten economic distress, governments will abandon the treaties (à la Maastricht). No government will create a recession today to avoid a future disaster that may not happen anyway.

The lesson for Indian strategy at Copenhagen is clear. India should talk tough and not worry about being called a deal-breaker. When a deal's value is so uncertain, it matters little whether it's broken or not. India should keep its commitments light, and be ready to jump ship if others do. Never assume that others will actually implement climate pledges.